Sarah Bernstein

Nightmares and pipe dreams: A visit to Huwara

The families told us of their dilemma: stay in their smoke-filled houses or flee and face the hordes rampaging outside
Photo credit: Tag Meir
Solidarity visit to Hawara

Today I joined a solidarity visit to Huwara, under the auspices of Tag Meir, a coalition of organizations committed to fighting hate crimes. Yesterday a similar delegation visited the bereaved Yaniv family in Har Bracha.

We were told that ours was the first Jewish delegation to visit the village attacked by a mob of settlers on Monday night and although our safety could not be guaranteed, the visit had been coordinated with both Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Indeed, as we arrived, we saw an official delegation including the Palestinian Prime Minister, who stopped to say a few words on his way out of one of the burned houses.

The fear and anger of the Palestinian residents were palpable, as was the smell of fire inside the burned houses. Stones, broken glass, and empty tear gas canisters were everywhere. The families we visited told of their fear — and their dilemma: stay in their smoke-filled houses or flee and face the hordes of settlers rampaging outside. One 85-year-old woman told of her nightmare experience, cowering inside her house, breathing the smoke, until she escaped through a back door. She spent the whole night outside and hasn’t slept since, too afraid that the settlers might come back and burn her alive.

The neighbors of another man told us how they watched his house burning from across the street and were convinced that the entire family must be dead. Now the family members are scattered around, their house uninhabitable. One house was brand new, with nylon still covering the light switches. Another householder said he has learned from experience, and all his windows are covered with wire mesh.

Speaker after speaker said that the soldiers did nothing to help. Some berated us for putting Ben Gvir and Smotrich in charge. They asked what they should tell their children, how they can teach their children not to hate when this is the situation. In the meantime, the whole village is closed, apparently under orders from the army. It is forbidden to open the shops, at least until Sunday. No one understands the logic, but they seem used to having to obey orders they don’t understand. And even as we visited, soldiers arrested someone – we were told it was for opening the shutters of his shop.

Tag Meir distributed forms offering the services of their lawyer to represent the families whose property had been damaged and destroyed. Again and again, we expressed our condemnation of the pogrom committed by the settlers and our feelings of shame and contrition.

One piece of video footage of the attack is that of settlers pausing in the midst of the flames to pray their evening prayers. It is impossible to imagine what was going through their minds. Do they truly believe that their deeds sanctify God’s name? Their deeds are a desecration and deserve not only condemnation but punishment. We can only imagine what would have happened if Arabs took similar action against Jews. And the only complaint of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is that the army should do the job of wiping out the village of Huwara themselves instead of private citizens having to do it themselves.

At the Rossing Center, we believe that struggling to prevent the legal revolution proposed by the current government is not enough – we have to ensure that everyone, from the river to the sea, enjoys full civil and human rights. Only then will our work be done. Today that seems like a pipe dream.

About the Author
Dr. Sarah Bernstein is the Director of the Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue. With a background as a lawyer and mediator, for over twenty years Sarah has been working in Jerusalem in the field of peace-building and shared society, specializing in interreligious dialogue and education. She was awarded her Phd in Peace and Reconciliation Studies by Coventry University in England. Sarah sat on the Alliance for Peacebuilding Global Advisory Council on Effective Interreligious Peacebuilding Evaluation, and was a founding Board member of the International Association of Spiritual Care.
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